A no-nonsense guide to designing your workouts

In my recently rewritten article “A no-nonsense guide to design your workouts“, which is a three-part series, I offer no BS ways for beginners and veterans alike to keep their workouts fresh while consistently making gains.

Everywhere you turn these days, weight training seems to be the focus. And why shouldn’t it be? A proper weight training program produces many positive effects, including: increased muscle mass; reduced body fat; increased bone density; improved insulin sensitivity; improved self-esteem; and overall well-being. The list goes on. Yet with all the information available, why is it so hard for people to make progress? Because most of what is out there is BULLSHIT!!

Helping people is what being a trainer and a coach is all about. Most publishers and editors are so hell-bent on selling magazines, they print things like this: “Put 2 inches on your arms in 21 days;” “Have a chest like Arnold’s in just 6 weeks.” People, just like you, purchase this type of trash in the hopes that it might work. These writers and editors rely on your ignorance.

Having the knowledge and ability to help somebody achieve their goals goes far beyond writing an article about workouts. Writing workouts is actually a pretty easy thing to do. Just about anyone with a little bit of knowledge can do it, and many ? unfortunately — do. The barriers to entry to become a personal trainer are so low, most certificates aren’t worth the paper they’re written on. In contrast, look at the barriers to entry to become a nurse. Several years of school filled with prerequisites, in which you need a 78 percent just to pass, coupled with many hours of hands-on clinicals. What education does a trainer need? Send away for some study guides, take a test, and “Bam!” you’re a certified trainer.


Partial reps vs full range of motion

I am not a huge fan of using partial reps, but will use them sparingly with experienced lifters to “through a wrench into their workout”. When I prescribe them they are performed after the client has already reached momentary concentric failure during a set. But, because partial reps place such high demands on the recovery ability of the muscles being worked, I caution against using them more than once every 4 workouts per body part. In reference to this belief, I received an email from an intermediate lifter claiming a study (J Strength Cond Res, 2004, 18(3), 518-521) proved partial reps should be incorporated in his workout instead of full range reps.?

I did a little research, as always, and found the study the gentleman was referencing. This study was conducted over a 10-week period using the bench press as the criterion measurement. Subjects were divided into three groups. Group one trained with full range of motion sets. Group two trained with partial range of motion sets. A partial range of motion was defined as two to five inches from full extension of the elbows. Group three trained with a combination of both partial and full range reps. All groups were pre and post-tested with a full range of motion one rep maximum. No differences were found between the groups. So should we or shouldn’t we use partial reps?

There are several problems I find with this study that are common to many studies trying to illuminate the most efficacious training principles. First, and perhaps most important, inexperienced, recreational subjects were used. Inexperienced subjects can achieve gains in the first few months on just about any program. Second, the length of time the study was conducted was entirely too short. six, eight or, like this study, 10 weeks is just not enough time to show the efficacy of a particular training protocol. And third, the intensity of the exercises or perceived exertion is not mentioned or monitored. Are the subjects going to failure on their sets? Are some subjects pushing themselves harder than others? Are the subjects training in the same manner on exercises other than the bench press? This study like most training studies shows nothing.


Perfect Pecs

Like a great set of developed arms, a well developed chest always gets attention.? Chest and arms are the most frequently worked body parts in any gym across the country.? You never hear of anyone skipping a chest workout to do legs, but frequently hear people skipping their leg workout.? Most of this is due to shear laziness, but some is because chest is much more fun to work.

In their quest for an “Arnold like” chest many people look for that one exercise or that one workout that, like magic, will give them the chest they want.? Unfortunately, genetics, as with all body parts, determines the size and shape of ones chest.? This doesn’t mean, however, that one can’t improve upon what they have.

Do not get caught up in the game of trying to make your muscles look a certain way.? You will consistently be disappointed.? Instead concentrate on making the best of what you’ve got.? You can do this by hitting the chest from a variety of angles.? It is also imperative you “feel” the muscle being worked.? Concentrating on feeling your chest work is as important as performing the exercises. And last, using TEMPO to increase muscle tension is essential and will help to improve your concentration level.?

Learn more about these and other guidelines to build Perfect Pecs.


Best exercise for building big lats

Over the years it has been well established that performing exercises behind the neck, like lat pull downs, is detrimental to the shoulder joint. The unnatural movement pattern of bringing the bar behind ones head causes external rotation combined with horizontal abduction, which places the shoulder at a great risk of injury. However, when the lat pull down is performed to the front of the head, there is a lower stress on the shoulder joint because of a higher degree of stabilization by the rotator cuff muscles.

Not only is the front of the neck lat pull down (FNL) a safer exercise, but it allows for a great range of motion. Despite the amount of empirical and anecdotal evidence illuminating the possible negative effects of behind the neck pull downs (BNL), proponents tout is greater efficacy for building bigger lats. But Is there a difference in the activity of the primary movers during different lat pull down exercises?

A recent study analyzed the electromyographical (EMG) activity of 3 different lat exercises. The exercises used where the BNL, FNL, and V-bar behind the neck lat pull (V-bar). Twenty four experienced weight lifters participated in the study performing 5 reps with each exercise, with electrodes positioned over 4 muscle bellies (pectoralis major, latissimus dorsi, posterior deltoid, and biceps brichii). Although a previous study (J Strength Cond Res 16:539-546) showed a greater activity of the latissimus dorsi muscle using FNL when compared to the BNL, this was not the case with the present study. (J Strength Cond Res 2009:23(7);2054-2060)

If your objective is to build bigger lats, than any of the 3 exercises in this study can be used with equal activation. However, with no advantage being found in this or any other study to date performing the BNL, one should question it’s use. There is no movement in sport or daily activity that the BNL mimics. Conversely, the FNL mimics movement patters in sports and daily activities helping to reduce injury and improve function.

There are a few concerns I have with this and previous studies analyzing prime mover activation in lat exercises. The distance between the hands, which were the same for this and other studies, has a huge impact on the range of motion, the load used, and EMG activation. The closer the grip one uses performing a lat pull down, the greater the range of motion and load, which consequently yields a greater activation of the prime movers.

Changing exercises alters movement patterns and muscle recruitment, which can increase or decrease the load used. A greater load, which elicits a greater EMG activation, can always be achieved with movements to the front of the neck as opposed to the back of the neck. For this reason, using the same load for all 3 exercises doesn’t show the true ability of an exercise to activate target muscles. The correct load used would be such that each exercise was performed with maximum intensity. Only then can there be an apples to apples comparison.


Q and A with Mike Furci

Q: Mike,
I was told to do dumbbell flys on an incline bench (35-40 degrees). wrong? better? worse?

A: Better? No. Different? Yes.
As the angel of the incline starts to go beyond 30% the only difference is the degree to which the deltoids are used. And while we’re on the subject of angled benches, don’t even bother with decline bench. It is a myth that it stimulates the bottom portion of the pec muscles more than the flat bench.

Also, if you’re performing different angles to change the shape of your pecs, it’s not going to happen. Your shape is genetically predetermined. Train with 100% intensity and stick with the basics.

Read the rest @ Q&A


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